Jun. 11

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Trump's Lawyers Are Aghast at His Offer to Testify for Mueller

When President Donald Trump announced on Friday that he was willing to testify under oath for special counsel Robert Mueller, his lawyers got a sinking feeling in their stomachs. Mueller would likely not want any testimony until he has collected a lot more information, but testimony after that could be full of land mines for Trump. The big problem is that Mueller is an extremely experienced and thorough prosecutor and Trump would likely be unwilling to put hours and hours into preparing for his testimony. Trump also has a poor recollection of facts. Mueller could ask him many questions the answers to which he already knows. If Trump states something under oath that Mueller can prove is false, that is perjury.

Another problem is that Mueller knows former FBI Director James Comey extremely well. He knows that Comey is a straight arrow. In a lying match between Trump and Comey, Mueller knows very well who is telling the truth and who is not, even if he can't prove it in court. The more Trump calls Comey a liar, the more Mueller will be convinced that Trump is the real liar. Even if a prosecutor starts out completely neutral in an investigation, if it ever gets to the point when he is convinced that the subject is a dishonest liar, he begins to look harder for evidence confirming that. Trump would be far better off listening to his own lawyer and laying low, but that is not who he is. (V)

Sessions Will Testify before Senate Committee on Tuesday

Former senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions will get a chance to hang out with his former colleagues on Tuesday and shoot the breeze with them. He just has to be a bit careful what he says, since he will be testifying under oath before the same Senate Intelligence Committee that heard from James Comey last week. Sessions issued a statement that read: "In light of reports regarding Mr. Comey's recent testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it is important that I have an opportunity to address these matters in the appropriate forum."

One topic that might just come up is the Feb. 14th meeting in which Donald Trump asked everyone to leave the room so he could speak to Comey alone. Sessions hesitated to leave, but in the end, left. Comey testified: "My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering." The senators may want to know why he lingered, and if he knew it was wrong to leave Trump alone with Comey, why didn't he say so. (V)

Everyone Wants the Comey Recordings

There was a time in Donald Trump's life when he could go on David Letterman's show, or Howard Stern's, or even his own show "The Apprentice" and say whatever fool thing came into his head. His outrageousness might generate a few laughs and a few headlines, and then would be forgotten within 24 hours. The Donald does not seem to realize that now that he is president, that is no longer the case. When the President of the United States says something outrageous, it lingers, particularly when that president is as unpopular as Trump is.

Due to his failure to learn this lesson, Trump has dug himself many holes during his time in politics, from mocking a disabled reporter, to sexist remarks about Megyn Kelly, to denigrating a Gold Star family. The latest and greatest self-dug hole involves the recordings that Trump implied that he had of his conversations with James Comey. The whole notion that recordings exist was first introduced off-handedly, on Twitter, as a way of trying to intimidate Comey. The threat backfired, of course, since it prompted the former FBI director to leak the very damaging memos that led to the appointment of special counselor Robert Mueller. Further, Trump now finds himself in a position where everyone wants to get their hands on the recordings, including the various Congressional committees investigating the President, as well as Mueller.

We have to assume at, this point, that there are no damaging recordings of Comey. If they did exist, the time to release them was Friday. That would have countered the narrative that was building, and would have reduced the amount of coverage that the former director's testimony got. If this assumption is correct, then there would seem to be three possible scenarios that remain:

Whatever the case may be, this is a situation that is going to reach its denouement, probably sooner rather than later. And however it ends, Donald Trump is going to be damaged—the only question is how much. (Z)

When Will Trump Staff His Administration?

It is well known, by now, that Donald Trump is filling the key jobs in his administration at a snail's pace. He's identified about half as many appointees as the two Bushes had at this point, and about a third as many as Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Overall, of the 559 key appointments that Trump needs to make, he's named (but not formally nominated) nine people, he's nominated 83 people, and he's gotten 40 confirmed. That leaves 426 jobs for which no nominee has been sent to the Senate. This includes positions that should theoretically be a priority for the President; for example, Secretary of Defense James Mattis is essentially running the Pentagon by himself, for want of undersecretaries. Similarly, there is not a single replacement in the pipeline for all the U.S. Attorneys Trump forced to resign way back on March 10.

Trump, of course, blames the Democrats for this, and took to Twitter earlier this week to vent his frustrations:

.@foxandfriends Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors. They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017

There is a modicum of truth to this, in that it is taking an average of 41 days for Trump's nominees to be approved, compared to 32 for Obama, and 18, 20, and 25, for W. Bush, Clinton, and H. W. Bush, respectively. However, Trump's complaint neglects to mention four things: (1) He tends to choose particularly tricky nominees, who come with major questions about their financial/personal backgrounds, which adds time to the process; (2) The GOP controls the Senate, and bears much of the responsibility for the slow pace; (3) The administration tends to take a long time to submit paperwork after making nominations, and so also bears responsibility for the slow pace; (4) It is not possible to delay a nominee that hasn't actually been nominated. Point is, the Democrats are among the culprits here, but are far from the biggest culprits.

So, what's the problem here? There seem to be three major issues that are interfering with getting people nominated:

Problem number two is pretty intractable, but the first and third are within Trump's power to fix; he need only change his thinking (not that he's good at that). As long as he's understaffed, he's taking a big risk. What if there was to be a terrorist attack, and one that might have been avoided if not for the vacancies? As Theresa May learned this week, voters tend to punish their leaders for things like that. (Z)

Trump Has No Relationship With Barack Obama

The approach that president-elect Donald Trump took to his predecessors, as opposed to that of president-elect Barack Obama, speaks volumes about the two men. Obama, as he prepared to take on the toughest job in the world, asked George W. Bush to host a summit of sorts, wherein all of the living presidents came together so he could pick their brains for advice. It was the first time that all the living ex-presidents had been in the White House at the same time. Obama also remained in regular contact with the four men, particularly his immediate predecessor.

Trump, by contrast, met once with Obama during the transition, posed for some photo ops on Inauguration Day, and then dropped him like a hot coal. And The Donald has not merely ignored his predecessor, he has turned him into a scapegoat and a whipping boy, accusing Obama of ordering wiretaps, and blaming him for all manner of other problems. At this point, the relationship is so frosty that it's unlikely to be repaired. And what about the other presidents? Well, those are the ones that Trump ignores. To some extent, this is a reflection of the same score-settling that is interfering with Trump's nominations (see above). He disdains the two Bushes due to their connection to Jeb and to the GOP establishment, and he disdains Bill Clinton due to his connection to Hillary. Maybe he should get Jimmy Carter's number, since the Georgian seems to be the only living president with whom Trump has no beef.

Needless to say, it's regrettable that Trump is not tapping into such a valuable resource—the only people in the world who truly understand what it's like to sit behind that desk. If there's anyone who could use that crutch, it's the first president in U.S. history to have zero government experience and zero military experience prior to taking office. But, as with so many things, Trump simply cannot sublimate the worse parts of his nature for the benefit of himself and the country. (Z)

Putin Blew It

Vladimir Putin undoubtedly decided to meddle in the U.S. elections because he strongly dislikes Hillary Clinton (and vice versa). He probably expected her to win, but thought he could weaken her and also the American democracy. He was surely as surprised as anyone else when Donald Trump won. At first, it seemed like that was a big win, with a friendly president in the Oval Office. Now, however, that is far from clear.

When Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) asked James Comey if he had any doubt about the Russians meddling in the election and Comey briskly answered "none," everything suddenly changed. Rather than getting the sanctions that Putin so hates lifted, it now appears that they will be strengthened. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham, certainly no Russophile, not only are the votes there in the Senate to pass a tougher sanctions bill, but the votes are there to override a presidential veto. Graham thinks that the votes are also there in the House. Remember, with the exception of Donald Trump and his friends, Republicans hate the godless Commies. And Democrats are furious with Putin for interfering with the election. It will be tough for many lawmakers to vote against increased sanctions. If Graham is right and such a bill emerges and passes, Putin certainly will not be having the last laugh.

Trump clearly won't like a bill that makes the sanctions a matter of law, rather than merely an executive order, as it is now, but his standing with Congress is now so low, he may not be able to do anything to stop it. (V)

Schneiderman Is Investigating Eric Trump's Foundation

Last week, Forbes reported that Eric Trump runs an annual charity golf tournament to help children with cancer. How could anyone complain about that? Well, according to Forbes' story, donors were told their money would go to help sick kids, but at least $500,000 was re-donated to other charities, many of them controlled by the Trump Organization. This is called self-dealing and violates federal law.

Also, Trump claimed that the golf tournament was a very efficient way to give money, because the use of the Trump facilities was free, allowing all the donations to go to charity. Now it turns out that Trump misled the donors because the Trump Organization charged the tournament a lot of money to use its facilities. Misleading donors to a charity is also a violation of federal law.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, is now investigating the matter. The ambitious Schneiderman knows that the attorney general's position is often a stepping stone to the governor's mansion and that the Trumps are not terribly popular in the Empire State, so bringing the hammer down on Eric would play well locally. (V)

Democrats Woo Black Voters in GA-06

With just over a week to go until the June 20 runoff, the DCCC is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the GA-06 race between Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R). Both parties understand the consequences of a Democratic win in a highly Republican district and are acting accordingly. The cash outlay by the DCCC includes $150,000 for ads on radio stations popular with black voters, who make up about 14% of the population of the district. A strong turnout by black voters could mean the difference between victory and defeat for Ossoff. For the first time, Democratic strategists are bringing Donald Trump into the campaign, as bogeyman. Until now, Ossoff had mostly been campaigning on local issues, basically saying he would do more for the people of the district. Now the race is about to be nationalized. The affluent district is located in Atlanta's northern suburbs and has been a GOP stronghold for decades. (V)

Germany: Global Warming Will Heighten Terrorism

The German government, specifically its foreign office, released a sobering report on Saturday. It argues that, as global warming gets worse, the number of terrorist acts will increase. There are two ways in which this will happen. First, increasing scarcity of resources will allow fringe movements to seize inordinate power by seizing control of aqueducts, dams, rivers, farmland, and the like. Second, the poverty that will ensue from reduced resources will create circumstances ripe for encouraging and recruiting radicals. This is not merely hypothetical; it's already happening. The report notes, for example, the case of Boko Haram, which has used its control of Lake Chad, along with the general poverty of central Africa, to its advantage.

If Trump was a man of more imagination—an FDR, a JFK, a George H. W. Bush, even a Richard Nixon—this might have provided him an out for the dilemma he created with the Paris Accord on climate. Trump could give a speech in which he said that yes, he promised to withdraw from the Paris Accord, but he also promised to keep America safe, and the two goals were in conflict. Thus, he might conclude, he has to make a choice, and keeping America safe is more important. If Trump did it just right, his base might not even fully recognize that he was implicitly embracing the reality of global warming. Unfortunately, Trump seems to have very little imagination and, for that matter, relatively little sense that his actions may have unintended consequences. So, the new report will have no impact on the administration. (Z)

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